Cava-Style Harissa

Harissa - 1 of 2

Since leaving the practice of law and plunging full time into the world of food, one of the things I find endlessly fascinating is how certain foods and food customs have worldwide appeal. One that immediately comes to mind is pasta, or noodles, which are enjoyed in too many countries to count. Another is the custom of serving meze, or appetizers — small dishes of food eaten at the start of a meal to stimulate one’s appetite.

Certainly, each of these topics is worthy of its own post with accompanying recipe (and as I write these words, ideas for future posts are already popping into my head). Today, however, I want to talk about the universal love of all things hot. Spicy hot, that is.

It’s undisputed that people love to add heat to food. Growing up in Oklahoma, one of the constants in our house was Tabasco sauce. I have to admit that I don’t actually remember using it on anything since, like most kids, I wasn’t particularly fond of foods that were overly spicy. Nevertheless, something must have sunk in because today I absolutely love anything with heat. Currently, my heat-promoting repertoire includes Tabasco, Sriracha, and Tapatío hot sauces, at least one Thai-style sweet chile sauce, chile-infused oils, jars of both Aleppo and Korean pepper flakes, and several kinds of dried chile peppers.

Recently, I ran across yet another option for inducing chile pepper nirvana. During a visit to a local grocery store, I discovered tubs of harissa, a paste made of chiles and spices that is believed to have originated in Tunisia but is now a staple of cuisines across all of North Africa and in some Middle Eastern countries as well. In this case, the harissa was the version used to top the rice and salad bowls sold at Cava Mezza Grill, a Washington D.C.-based chain of fast casual restaurants serving Greek-inspired foods in a salad bar-type assembly line similar to that used by Chipotle. Since I always opt for a dollop of harissa on my visits to Cava, trying it out at home was a no brainer.

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Marinara Sauce

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A few weeks ago I did a post calculating the astonishing amount of sugar that a five-year-old could consume in a single day by eating typical processed and restaurant food.  As a follow-up I said that I would post some recipes for dishes that could be substituted for the more sugary, processed items that populate grocery store shelves.  Today’s post, marinara sauce, is the third in that series.

Marinara sauce is one of those kitchen staples I try to always have on hand.  It’s the simplest of tomato sauces, consisting of just tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and a few seasonings, simmered together until the sauce has reduced slightly and the flavors have blended.  (Depending on whom you ask, it may or may not have onions – my preference is to leave them out.)  It’s also extremely versatile, serving as a sauce for not only pasta but vegetables and meat as well.

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